Things to see in January Number 2: Go in search of waxwings

Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) are another winter visitor to the UK and, like the short-eared owl mentioned in the previous post, offer an unusual and exciting spectacle in the dead of winter.

They are quite distinctive and very pretty – about the size of a starling and they can look rather similar in flight. However, perched they are a much more exotic looking bird with their smokey, charcoal-grey bodies, the flashes of red and yellow on their wings and tail and a casual plume on top of their heads.

The UK over-wintering population varies from year to year but they are here in great numbers this year. They migrate in search of the berries which have had particulary poor crops on the continent this year. Rowan is a particular favourite with other species such as hawthorn, cotoneaster and rose also providing food.

The birds descend upon trees in small flocks and can strip it bare in a day, sometimes staying until every berry is plucked before moving on. Because of the food species favoured by the birds, they are often seen in rather unexpected places, watching the @waxwingsuk twitter feed gives a roundup of industrial estates, retail parks and supermarkets around the country where these trees are often planted as part of ornamental schemes. They also turn up in more expected sites such as parks and gardens.

Locations where they have been sighted in/near Grantham this year include Downtown carpark (on the A1), Asda carpark (in the centre of Grantham), Aldi carpark (beside the railway line) and most recently beside the A52 as it leaves the town past the barracks to the east. One of the most regular locations has been Marston Sewerage Works although there have been no reported sightings there for a while.

For your best chance to see them, follow @waxwingsuk on twitter as they collate sightings every day providing you with the most up-to-date information on their locations. It’s also handy if you’re travelling as you might see a spot on your route somewhere that’s easy to drop in – I did this in Lichfield before Christmas (see photograph below). I will try to re-tweet any Grantham records so if you’re after local locations, you can check out my twitter feed in the tab on the right for updates!

Waxwings (photograph taken in Cappers Lane, Lichfield)

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